Let’s face it – kids love toys, and we love giving them the toys they feel they can’t live without. But we all know where most of those toys end up – forgotten at the bottom of the toybox and eventually donated to charity or passed down to siblings or to other family members. The toys our kids keep receiving for their birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions just keep piling up – and more arrive year in, year out.
All the statistics says that we are staggering under the sheer weight of our possessions. Both kids and adults have too many toys, too many clothes, too much stuff. What if we got “unstuffed”?
Making a conscious decision to reduce stuff is a good start, and science agrees. A group of researchers working on a toy-free kindergarten found that toys limit kids’ creativity. They found that when they took toys away, children developed skills such as cooperation, organization and creativity.
Have you ever wondered why the kids with the most toys still seem to need more? Have you noticed that right after receiving their birthday or Christmas toys, kids completely ignore them and start role playing, playing dress up, building forts, or pretend cooking (with empty yoghurt pots rather than with the toys you got them for their birthday or Christmas?)
Although the feeling that we “have to give our kid something” is common and normal, your kids do not need all the toys they get. Paradoxically, the more they get, the more “needy” they become.
According to Claire Lerner, a childhood development researcher with Zero to Three, having too many toys does your kid a disservice. She says that the fewer toys your kid has, the more he plays with them. Lerner says that kids who have too many toys tend to be more distracted, which prevents them from learning from those toys. Other researchers have found that buying fewer and better toys can help your child develop important life skills.
But taking away all your kids’ toys or “banning gifts” is not the answer. Kids need toys, and toys are great for helping them learn important skills. What you can do is incorporate non-gift ideas the next time you want to offer your kid a gift on her birthday or on other special occasions in order to strike a balance and stop accumulating stuff.
Why offering your kid experiences for birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions is a great alternative to giving toys
People tend to remember experiences more than they remember gifts. They remember moments spent together more than they remember material possessions. Researchers at Cornell University have found that compared to material things, experiences make people happier over time. They say that while people often adopt a “give it to me now” mind-set” when waiting for material goods, they find it more pleasurable to wait for experiences.
One of the reasons why giving experiences can be an interesting idea to replace toys is because toys get easily forgotten, but we all tend to fondly remember experiences over time. You’ll probably have a hard time trying to remember all the gifts you got for Christmas or on your birthday, but you’ll more easily remember the music class you tried, the ice-creams trips at night in your pajamas, the movie nights you shared as a family, or the weekends you spent camping.
Why investing in shared memories is a great birthday, Christmas or any special occasion gift idea
Kids need shared family experiences to thrive. Spending time with your kids has a positive impact on their social, academic and psychological wellbeing. But spending time with your kids is not about the amount of time you spend with them; it’s more about the quality of the time spent together. Spending time preparing or sharing a meal while chatting is quality time that doesn’t take much of your time. Adopting family traditions such as movie nights is something your kid will remember for the rest of his life. Providing opportunities to share family experiences is a great gift your child and your entire family will appreciate.
Many benefits are associated with shared family experiences.
- They lower stress
- They strengthen your family’s bonds
- They help reinforce your kids’ sense of security
- They reduce adolescents’ risky behavior and potential drug use
- They give your family a sense of identity
- They act as a foundation for your family
Shared experiences are as important for adults as they are for kids. Even simple shared experiences such as sharing family meals have an important impact on your child’s behavior and on his psychological wellbeing. The benefits of shared family experiences have been scientifically proven. In one study, researchers found that when families maintained regular family traditions, they were better able to deal with life’s challenges and their children displayed fewer behavioral problems.
The good thing about giving experiences and shared memories as opposed to toys and other material gifts is that experiences are remembered longer, and they also take up less space in your home! But deciding to give experiences instead of toys, or choosing a mix of toys and experiences needs a plan: How much are you willing to spend on your child’s birthday gift? What type of experiences do you want to offer as a gift (individual gift, family gift)? Do you want to give experiences exclusively or do you think a mix of toys and experiences will work better for you?
Here is a list of 41 non-toy ideas to get you started planning your child’s next birthday, Christmas or any other special family occasion during which you are expected to give gifts.
IOU for an outing: An IOU is a great gift you can use if you’re trying to replace toys with experiences. If you want to avoid surprises, you could offer something like an IOU movie ticket your kid can use to go see his favorite film as soon as it comes out. Here are four FREE IOU coupons to download.
Tickets to the zoo: Tickets to the zoo are a great gift you can give instead of buying Christmas and birthday material presents.
Tickets to the museum: Tickets to the museum are a great alternative to Christmas or birthday toys. Many museums also offer passes that can enable your kid to visit multiple museums. If your child is into museums, you could also consider proposing to offer the tickets as a joint gift from all your family (grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc).
Tickets to a play: Giving tickets to a play instead of giving toys is also an option if you’re looking for a non-toy gift.
Tickets to an aquarium: Many kids (and adults!) love aquariums and tickets to visit will no doubt be a gift your kid is likely to appreciate.
Local attraction passes: Local attractions often get overlooked. Check out what your town is offering to see if there are any gift ideas your kid will appreciate. There are many great and free events that could make a great gift idea for your kid.
A photo album: I think this is the non-stuff gift I absolutely have to offer my kids next Christmas even though I’m already breaking into a sweat thinking of all the organization it entails. A photo album with all the memories of the year for each kid is a great gift idea if you don’t want to buy your kids toys anymore. You can also make a scrapbook by printing your kids’ pictures and writing captions, and adding stickers, drawings and trinkets.
Movie tickets: What kid won’t appreciate movie tickets? Knowing that she alone gets to decide when and which movie to watch is a gift she’s bound to love.
Tickets to an event of his choice: If your kid is crazy about a certain event, getting him tickets is a great way to make him happy and keep away from material gifts.
Ice-cream treat coupon: What is it about kids and ice-cream? Kids love it! Why not give your kid an ice-cream treat coupon she can use whenever she feels like it?
Passes to a park: If you want to request alternative birthday and Christmas gifts from your family, passes to a park can be a great idea to replace toys.
Monthly book subscription boxes: Book subscriptions are a great way to turn your kids into readers and they are also a great alternative to toys if you’re looking for interesting gifts for your kid. Many monthly book subscriptions offer two to four books per month and can cater to your child’s age and interests. Reading bug box (for newborns to 13 year olds) and Amazon prime book box (up to 12 years old) are a few great subscription boxes you can check out.
Coupon book: Coupon books have been around for ages but they’re still a great way to give experiences instead of toys. The best thing about coupon books is that you can adapt them to your kid’s personality to ensure that he gets the perfect birthday or Christmas gift. A coupon book is a great idea if you’re looking for non-material gifts to offer your child. Here is a free coupon book you can use if you’re planning to get your child a non-toy present.
Magazine subscriptions: It is possible to replace toys as a gift with magazine subscriptions tailored to kids’ interests. National Geographic Kids is a magazine written specifically for kids and can make a great non-toy present.
Snack subscription boxes: Good snack subscriptions aren’t just about food, they’re about teaching kids about different cultures. Snack subscription boxes are a great gift idea because they teach kids about the different foods eaten in different countries, and about different tastes and flavors. Some boxes also come with a comprehensive guidebook with information about the different snacks/countries.
Restaurant gift card: Your kid will love getting a restaurant gift card and being able to use it whenever he so wishes.
Bowling tickets: Bowling tickets are a great non-stuff idea for your kid’s birthday.
Educational box subscription: Educational box subscriptions are a great non-toy gift for your kid. They are also designed to develop skills such as curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. Little Passports Early Explorers – Subscription Box for Kids | Ages 3-5 is a great monthly educational box subscription you can check out.
Family outing: A family outing is a nice non-material gift that will enable you to give your child a meaningful gift and will help your family to share memories. Even simple family outings like picnics can make a great gift for your kid.
Pottery classes: Pottery classes are a non-material gift idea that can teach your kid new skills. Find out if your area has initiation to pottery classes and sign her up!
Science kit: If your child is into science or if he needs a little help to fall in love with science, a science kit can make a perfect birthday or Christmas gift. The Volcano Making Kit or the Tinkering Labs Electric Motors Catalyst, Robotics Stem Kit for Kids Age 8-12 are great examples of good science kits for kids.
Dance classes: Dance classes are a different gift idea that can initiate your kid to dance.
Music classes: Did you know that music has an impact on your child’s brain development. Research has also linked music classes to early childhood cognitive development. Offering music classes or an initiation to music classes is a great alternative gift idea if you are looking for non-material gifts for your child.
Cookery classes: Cookery classes are an alternative and interesting gift idea for your kid. The good news is that there are now interesting online cookery classes for kids.
Coding subscription box: If your kid is into coding, why not get her a coding subscription box for her next birthday or special occasion?
Creative toolbox: If your kid likes creative stuff, a creative toolbox can be a great gift idea. For example, the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox is a robot building set and educational coding kit for kids
Lunch or dinner date: Offering a lunch or dinner date as a gift to your kid is a great way to offer experiences and to provide a wonderful opportunity for you to bond.
Movie night: Offering a movie night is a fun gift your kid will love. Your child will love looking forward to watching movies at night. Better still, propose a movie night at home with all the works – your child’s best movie, popcorn, DIY drive-in seats, etc. If you’re up to it, a movie marathon is a gift your kid will find hard to resist!
Local theatre tickets: What’s showing at your local theatre? Getting your kid tickets to something he is likely to enjoy is a great gift idea for birthdays and many other special occasions. Don’t forget to find out if residents get discounts or if there are free events your kid is likely to enjoy.
Home-cooked favorite family meal: Who said non-material gifts have to be over-priced? Offering your child her favorite meal is an exciting gift idea. Let her choose the menu you’ll cook and allow her to act like the “special guest”.
Painting lessons: Painting lessons are a unique gift idea and a great way to reveal the artist in your child.
Family vacation: A family vacation to a place your kid has been dying to visit is an awesome gift idea your entire family will enjoy. But remember your kid will also fondly remember simple family outings like camping.
New skill: Offering your child an opportunity to learn a new skill is a great way to shift from toys to more non-material gifts. It can also reveal hidden talents or spark his desire to learn something new.
Day out with mum or dad: A simple but great non-material gift your child is likely to enjoy is an opportunity to have mum or dad to herself for an entire day. Give your child an IOU gift voucher offering to hang out together.
Tours: Proposing a tour is also a great alternative gift your child is likely to enjoy. It can also be an opportunity to really get to know your town or nearby towns. To make the tour more interesting, come up with ideas your kid is likely to enjoy such as a bus tour, a bike tour or even a scavenger hunt to help him learn about the different landmarks in your town.
Helicopter ride: A helicopter ride is a great non-material gift idea for children but not all companies allow infants and toddlers on rides.
Culinary experience: Travelling is not the only way to offer your child a culinary experience as a gift on her birthday or any other special occasion. Offering a gift to experience different cuisine is a great birthday idea your kid will surely love. The best part is that you don’t necessarily have to offer the experience in a restaurant. You can offer your child a “culinary experience night” during which all family members prepare different recipes from a specific country/region (thank you, Google!).
Summer camp: If there’s a summer camp your child has been dreaming of, signing her up will be a lovely non-material gift she’s not likely to forget!
A pet: A pet is a great non-toy gift idea for your child, but it’s also a lot of work. Only get your child a toy if he will be able to care for it himself, or if you don’t mine caring for it yourself!
Sports lessons: If you are looking for an alternative gift idea your kid will love, try sports lessons. Giving your child tennis, Capoeira or skiing lessons is a unique gift idea he is bound to enjoy. Some instructors make the first lesson free so be sure to find out if your child can try different lessons for free before choosing what she likes best.
Horseback riding: Horseback riding is an alternative non-stuff gift idea you can offer your child on his birthday or on any other special occasion.
How to effectively shift away from materialistic gift-giving
Many parents wonder how many birthday or Christmas presents their kid should get. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” response. For many families, Christmas is the only time kids get to open something new. And toys are not a bad thing. Kids enjoy and can learn so many things from playing with toys. In other words, you do not have to give “zero toys” to make gift giving more meaningful, but you can adopt a more conscious gift giving approach. An effective way to do this could be by adopting a gift-giving rule for your family. One example I bet you’ve heard about is the Scandinavian “4-Gift rule”:
- One thing your kid wants
- One thing your kid needs
- One thing your kid can wear &
- One thing your kid can read
There’s also the “5 senses Gift rule”:
- Something to hear
- Something to smell
- Something to taste
- Something to see
- Something to touch
It’s easy to adapt these rules to your family to incorporate experience gifts. For example:
- One thing your kid can smell (culinary experience)
- One thing your kid can hear (music classes)
- One thing your kid can taste (chocolate or candy)
- One thing your kid can see (a book)
- One thing your kid can touch (something to wear)
You can also adopt a minimal gift giving guide to make gifts more meaningful. For example:
- One new item
- One used/DIY item
- One experience
- One gift for the entire family
Have you tried shifting to non-material gifts with your family? I’d love to hear about the non-toy ideas your kids loved. Please let me know in the comments section below.